Preschool Painting Ideas
I did not do a ton of painting with my special education students. But during the summers around college, I worked at a preschool summer camp. The experience is what made me realize that education was a good career choice for me. My summers there are still some of the best teaching experience that I've had for many reasons. The short of it for this hub is that I love preschool aged children and wanted to share these ideas. Many of them come directly from my experiences there.
I highly recommend having all kids wear paint shirts over their clothes for the majority of these activities. I also recommend laying down lots of newspaper or other material that you can throw away when you're done before working on any messy painting projects with preschoolers.
Fly swatter: Turn a large cardboard box on its side. Place it on a table top. Put a piece of paper inside the box. Fill a large shallow dish (large enough for the swatter) with paint. Have the students dip fly swatter in paint and whack the paper with it. Experiment with different amounts of paint and different speeds for whacking the paper. (Surprising side note: The ONLY place my husband and I were able to find a traditional fly swatter last year was at True Value.)
Bowling ball: One of the summers that I was working at the preschool, some of the teachers found an old bowling ball in the bushes around the building. They seized the opportunity to do something creative with it. If you haven't inherited a bowling ball, you may be able to pick up one on the cheap from craigslist or a garage sale. We spread 6 ft or so of butcher paper outside and had the students sit on the edges of it. We filled a shallow pan with pan with paint, dipped the bowling ball in it, and let the kids gently roll the ball to each other over the paper. You can re-dip the ball in the paint as needed.
Marbles: You can put a small handful of marbles in a single color of paint or have different marbles in different colors. Simply roll the marbles over a piece of paper.
Sponges: Sponges are inexpensive and very easy to cut into different shapes. If you don't feel confident cutting free form, draw shapes with a black Sharpie first. You can purchase fancier shapes as well. Sponge painting is also an easy, fun method for decorating walls. If you're considering doing this at home in one of your kid's bedrooms, check out this article.
Finger painting: Who doesn't love finger painting? Yes, there are some kids that don't like to get messy, but many kids do. For those who don't, this is a great sensory activity. For timid painters, have them start with just one or two fingertips at a time. Just make sure that the paint stays on the paper as much as possible (and not in their hair, on the floor, on the chairs, etc.).
Different sized brushes: Purchase an inexpensive pack of brushes in different sizes from just about any big box store or craft chain such as Michael's. Students can experiment with different width brushes and see firsthand what different effects they can make.
Painting on different materials: Stretch your mind on this one and think about materials to paint on that you normally wouldn't, such as sandpaper. This would tie in wonderfully with a science unit if you had the students make predictions ahead of time about what would happen to the paint on different surfaces.
Painting with other materials: One popular alternative that I've seen for water tables is shaving cream. The next time you spray a can of shaving cream in the water table, put a few paint brushes in with the toys. The shaving cream will wash off very easily. (Please do not die it other colors if you are doing this or it will NOT wash off easily. Save that option for another water table experience because that is a lot of fun, too.)
Q-tips/cotton balls: This is another very inexpensive option. You can purchase bulk amounts of Q-tips or cotton balls at any big box store or drug store. Since they are very cheap, don't be afraid to let kids experiment with lots of different color paints or sticking several Q-tips or cotton balls together.
Toothbrushes: You do not need fancy toothbrushes for this. Generic packs with multiple brushes are fine. Set up a box like you did for the fly swatter and let students dip their brushes and flick the paint on the paper. You can also have students experiment with different painting techniques (pushing lightly vs. hard, dotting quickly, dragging, etc.).
Balled household materials: The next time you're shopping for kitchen supplies such as wax paper or aluminum foil, pick up an extra pack for your classroom. Tear small balls of assorted paper/foil for your students and let them paint away. Have them experiment with different sized balls and different painting techniques.
Mix own colors: Students can create their own paint colors by carefully pouring small amounts of different paints and mixing them together with Popsicle sticks. Put the paint that they will be mixing in small paper cups or other small containers so if they do spill, you won't lose too much paint. Be careful not to let them mix too many different colors or the paint will end up dark brown or almost black.
Painting on food: Two easy methods for painting on food are decorating cookies or spreading colored milk on toast. You can bake any sort of cookies first (from scratch, from a mix, slice and bake, etc.) or purchase unfrosted cookies. Students can "paint" cookies with plastic knives or Popsicle sticks. For toast, add a few drops of food coloring to a small amount of milk (1/3 cup or so). Paint the bread with the milk, then toast it and watch the colors brighten. If you don't have a toaster at school, bring one in from home for a day.
T-shirts: Every year at my summer camp, the students get a new camp t-shirt to decorate. Purchasing bulk amounts of t-shirts with a single color of printing is pretty inexpensive. You can also purchase single color t-shirts in a variety of sizes and colors from Hobby Lobby for a couple dollars each. The shirts that we used had the name of the camp at the top and a picture frame in the middle for painting.
When painting t-shirts, place a piece of cardboard inside the t-shirt. We would fold up the t-shirt material around the frame and tape it to the back so only the frame was visible. This also prevents the cardboard from slipping while the students paint. Wash hand painted t-shirts in cold water, gentle cycle, INSIDE OUT.
Golf balls: Golf balls have a wonderful texture for painting. You can purchase packs of them for a fairly cheap price at big box stores or large sporting goods stores. Simply dip the golf balls in paint and experiment with different techniques on paper.
Water painting outside: This was another popular activity at my preschool summer camp. When it's warm or hot outside, fill a bucket with water and bring it outside with some medium to large paint brushes. Students can paint playground equipment, wooden fences, sidewalks, etc. When the weather is nice, the water will dry very quickly.
Preschool Art Project Ideas
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